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GuidesUser experience (UX)2023 UX research methods: A complete guide

2023 UX research methods: A complete guide

Last updated

13 April 2023

Author

Chloe Garnham

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User experience (UX) is the cornerstone of all good design. It’s how designers create logical, practical, and meaningful products.

UX impacts how people interact with designs, how they feel as they use them, and how quickly they can complete tasks.

Research is the first crucial step to provide delightful user experiences. It ensures that you’re backing your decisions with data, there are proof points for success, and you’re considering the end user at every stage of the process.

Without UX research, UX could be considered just an afterthought. Bringing your customer into the decision-making process is the key to success. Let’s dive into the best 2023 methods.

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What is UX research?

UX comprises all design aspects, including: 

  • Planning

  • Development

  • Branding

  • Appearance

  • Usability

  • Functionality

UX research matters throughout the entire design process. It looks at how users think and behave, including their motivations and pain points. 

Research enables product teams to deeply understand their end customer, so they can create better products for them. 

You can conduct UX research through various methods to observe user behavior, assess user attitudes, and identify user challenges. 

These insights and data points inform the design process to create truly user-centered products. 

Why is UX research critical?

Designing with people in mind is fundamental to creating products that delight the end user while solving their problems in the best possible ways.

Research enables this. 

Valuing UX research means respecting the people you’re designing for: You stop relying on assumptions and design products that solve problems. 

UX research is good for business growth, too, as adopting good UX practices can give you a competitive advantage. Research shows that design-led companies who intentionally design with positive user experiences in mind have a 41% higher market share and 50% more loyal customers than those who don’t.

What results can I expect from UX research?

We can’t overstate the value of UX research. If you complete it accurately and bake it into product designs, UX can be the difference between a product thriving or flopping. 

UX research can result in:

  • Improved customer loyalty: Customers who feel like you’re listening to them are more likely to stay loyal to your brand.

  • Higher conversion rates: Continual research and listening can smooth areas of friction, helping new customers join and convert seamlessly.

  • Increased sales: Research removes the guesswork, ensuring you’re creating a product that solves a real-world issue worth paying for.

  • Better reviews: With user-centricity at the forefront and decisions stemming from accurate data, you’re more likely to have happy customers and positive word-of-mouth.

  • Positive brand reputation: A company that prioritizes UX research can build a reputation for being innovative because its products are not merely beautiful but functional, easy to use, and solve customer problems.

  • Reduced development costs: Addressing potential issues early in the development cycle will result in fewer changes.

  • Continual learning: It’s essential to keep listening to customers and continually make improvements through feedback loops to stay on the leading edge.

  • Value-centered design: Valuing UX research means putting users first and creating a UX-focused company culture. 

The most common UX research methods

Some of the most valuable user research methods include: 

User interviews

One of the most common ways of gaining feedback from your users is by interviewing them. This method can provide a broad range of insights relatively quickly. 

Unlike focus groups, user interviews are with just one user at a time. 

You can conduct user interviews at any stage of the design process. This is vital in providing valuable information to the product design and development teams. 

You can hold user interviews in person, via video call, or over the phone. 

We recommend these best practices for interviews: 

  • Prepare thoroughly to ensure the conversation is relevant and doesn’t take too much of the participant’s time. 

  • Identify relevant participants for your interviews who represent your target market. 

  • Ensure your interviewees are comfortable and have the time to answer your questions. 

  • Avoid leading and closed questions which can result in inaccurate, unhelpful information. 

  • If a participant raises something new, follow up with questions to ensure you fully understand them and don’t miss relevant points. 

Usability testing

Another way to create user-centered products is through usability testing. This research technique tends to occur later in the development and design process once you’ve developed prototypes or a beta version of the product. 

Usability testing ensures products are fit-for-purpose, simple to use, and better than alternatives. 

In a usability test, researchers typically take a small number of participants through a series of exercises to see how they respond to the product. They’ll also share feedback. 

A neutral party or a UX team will observe the participants and take notes. They mustn’t assist participants. This ensures the test highlights areas of difficulty to the team. 

A few main objectives with usability testing include: 

  • Learning about user behavior and needs 

  • Recognizing areas of potential improvement 

  • Highlighting issues, roadblocks, or clucky design aspects

  • Confirming whether users enjoy using the product and can easily perform tasks 

For best practice, you should continually perform usability testing as products progress. This ensures they’re the best they can be. 

Usability testing templates

Field studies

Rather than conducting research in a study context – say in an office or lab – field research puts researchers into context. 

In field studies, users are in their own environment – whether that’s their home, workplace, or another local setting. This helps researchers gain a deeper understanding of their daily lives. 

Field studies can help teams better serve people and their real-life needs, as a field study can provide context that a lab study can’t. 

Imagine a company designing a smartwatch. Seeing users use their smartwatches while doing their daily chores or walking to a park provides much greater context. 

It might help a team improve features, generate new considerations, and see where unexpected interruptions or multi-tasking occur. 

Field studies ultimately provide more information, giving designers a greater understanding of how the user will actually use their product. 

Focus groups

Focus groups are a well-known UX research method. They can help a research team quickly discover a large amount of valuable information. 

Focus groups are useful in interactive systems development, including SaaS, social apps, and multiplayer games. 

Unlike user interviews, focus groups involve eight or fewer demographically similar people. They come together to discuss products, pain points, and preferences. 

Typically a moderator or neutral person conducts the group. They set out a series of questions, help everyone have their say, and keep the group on topic. 

To conduct best practice focus groups, we recommend: 

  • Allowing everyone in the room to speak: In a group environment, it’s common for louder voices to sway the group, so you must ensure everyone can share their opinion for accurate insights.

  • Encouraging varying responses: You’re not looking for one answer but enough answers to really understand your target market.

  • Listening for spontaneous responses: New insights are the real benefit of focus groups, and people will often say things you didn’t expect, which can prove valuable.

  • Having a list of relevant questions: Ask open-ended questions to ensure you deeply understand how your users feel.

  • Choosing a relevant group: Your participants should represent your target market, but you should also pay attention to inclusive design to ensure your products are usable by as many people as possible. 

  • Seeking to understand: Consider how you can better serve your customers by understanding their pain points and challenges. 

Surveys

Companies often use surveys to gain insights from customers. Surveys ask a series of targeted questions, and they tend to be popular as they’re relatively fast and cost-effective to create.

With many online survey creation tools, organizations often send surveys through email, online questionnaires, or chatbot conversations. Companies also commonly conduct in-person and phone surveys. 

To conduct best practice surveys, consider the following: 

  • Surveys are only as useful as their questions: All questions should be relevant with measurable results. To see whether a question is appropriate for your project, ask “How does this relate to our overall goals?”

  • Use open-ended questions: These help you get more information and greater insights.

  • Use a consistent ranking scale: When users rate their experience, measuring those results is simple.

  • Keep your surveys short: The longer the survey, the more likely participants will drop out. Keeping the experience relatively brief will ensure more completions.

Card sorting

Another research technique is card sorting. The process can be beneficial to see how participants naturally understand and categorize information. 

During card sorting, researchers give participants cards representing categories, ideas, or concepts. 

The participants sort the cards into different categories that make sense to them. The researcher doesn’t guide how they should sort the cards; instead, the sorting is about how the user feels. 

Card sorting can make a website or app’s information architecture logical, easy to use, and simple to access. 

There are two main variations of card sorting: Open and closed. 

In open card sorting, users can generate names for groups they create from a card stack. In closed card sorting, users organize the card stack into predetermined categories.

For example, the designers of a language learning app might use card sorting to make better decisions about where they house information. The cards could represent aspects like:

  • Passwords

  • Usernames

  • Learning history

  • Achievements

  • Menu options

  • Languages

  • Settings

  • Sounds

  • App language preference

  • Profiles

Asking users to sort these cards will help designers identify patterns that inform the menu structure and layout of the app. The resulting layout will likely reflect a more natural flow. 

Tree testing

Like card sorting, tree testing is a UX research method focused on information architecture. While card sorting is generally the first step to categorizing information, tree testing takes the technique further. 

In tree testing, researchers give users a basic product structure and ask them to organize categories into a tree formation that makes sense to them. 

This generates feedback on your product’s structure, which can help you improve menus and sequences. 

Like card sorting, tree testing ensures your app or website’s structure matches what users naturally gravitate towards. That means it’s intuitive and more usable. 

Five-second testing

Ever heard that first impressions matter? This testing method is all about those. 

Five-second testing analyzes users' very first reaction to a product. After a user views a product or feature for five seconds, they answer a series of questions so the researcher can understand their perspective. 

Five-second testing is common in web or app page tests to ensure the intended message comes across quickly. 

After running a five-second test, it can be helpful to ask questions such as: 

  • What is the page designed to do?

  • What do you think was the intended message? 

  • Who is the intended audience?

  • What was your first thought? 

  • What type of [service/product/feature] is on offer here? 

  • Did the company appear trustworthy? 

Diary studies

A diary study is a user research method where participants keep a diary of their experiences, activities, and thoughts over a period. 

Diary studies usually last up to a week. They can provide context for your product and how it fits into someone’s day. Diary studies can also be a fast, simple way to gain information. 

This method can be helpful for: 

  • Gaining an understanding of user habits 

  • Getting a perspective on user thoughts

  • Understanding more about user journeys 

  • Giving the product a real-world context 

The downside is that not all life events are relevant, so setting parameters is essential. This includes telling the participants what they should take notes of, which ensures the data is valuable for your project.

Diary study templates

How to choose the right user experience research method

It’s helpful to understand the different types of research to choose the correct method. Many researchers choose multiple research types to gain as much relevant information as possible. This is known as mixed methods research.

Research methods generally fall into these groups: 

Qualitative vs. quantitative research

Qualitative data comes directly from users through focus groups, usability testing, field studies, and interviews. This data provides insight into why users do things and their challenges. 

Quantitative data consists of numerical value measurements that you gain indirectly from users. Things like surveys, metrics, and user tests provide this information. Typically, the data involves measurements like how much, how many, and how often. 

Attitudinal vs. behavioral research

Attitudinal research is what users think about things. This includes what they think about something or what they think they will do in a particular situation. 

Behavioral research looks at what people actually do in certain situations. It’s an important distinction. Although people might feel a certain way, their behavior may say otherwise. 

Generative vs. evaluation research

Generative research focuses on a problem you’d like to solve. Researchers discovering more about users helps them innovate and generate new solutions. 

Evaluation research applies later in the design process, focusing on a specific solution to see whether it solves a problem for users. This may be at a prototype, beta, or similar stage.

Powerful examples of UX research success

Research can boost ROI, customer retention, and sales, among other benefits. 

Let’s consider UK-based clothing retailer Matalan. Matalan’s online shopping cart had high drop-offs, and the team wasn’t sure why. To solve the issue, the team sought user responses to website changes. User feedback meant they could optimize their checkout process. The company boosted its conversions by 1.23%

In another example, the digital agency Turum-burum saw a large influx of visitors to its site, but it didn’t know how to maximize conversions. By leveraging the power of surveys, the agency discovered their checkout was too complicated. Turum-burum used this information to streamline the process, boosting its conversion rate by 54.68%

UX research is the power behind product success

Quality UX is behind all good products. It impacts all aspects of the process and can be the difference between a product succeeding or failing in the marketplace.

UX research is the critical first step to success. Research ensures that you continually give customers what they want and need, helping you stand out from the crowd.

Learn more about UX research platforms

FAQs

What’s a good sample size for UX research?

How many people you choose for UX research can heavily impact the results. Too many people can confuse your results, and too few can reduce the information you gain.

The right number also depends on the type of research.

In usability testing, five participants are enough. However, rather than looking for a specific number, it’s best to test until themes begin to repeat and you stop discovering new information.

For statistical analysis, 20–40 participants or more are necessary to gain a high level of accuracy in some quantitative research types.

Surveys will likely have much larger numbers, even into the thousands.

The number you choose will depend largely on the type of research you’re conducting, your budget, and the project goals.

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